Issue 12.5: October/November 2009

Kona Coffee Goes to Washington


story by Genevive Bjorn

photo by Jack Wolford


Most of the orders for Dawn and Ron Barnes’ coffee come in the hundreds of pounds. But when they got a late-afternoon rush order for a mere five pounds of Extra Fancy last January, they dropped everything and roasted it up. For that small batch had a date with destiny: to be sipped at the Obama White House during inauguration season. “We feel honored to supply coffee to the White House, even if the odd timing of presidential orders means we suffer sleep loss,” says Dawn of the emergency January order that kept them roasting beans well into the night.

Dawn, a Hilo native, and husband Ron were homesick after a long stint as linguists in Papua New Guinea and then working for international charities in various countries. When the Kona Rainforest coffee farm at the base of Hualalai went up for sale in 2005, the Barneses found their path back home. They knew little about coffee farming or about the enormous effort required to produce the superior organic beans now enjoyed by the world’s powerful elite. And they had little time to learn: Their very first roast as the new owners was for the White House. Despite the challenges, though, the Kona Rainforest farm brought with it a few advantages: beautiful sunsets, rich aromas and the approving palate of Daniel Shanks.

Shanks is usher for food and beverage at the White House; he first ordered coffee from the Kona Rainforest Farm back in 2003, when Kona was the only place in America to buy home-grown coffee. (Politics being what they are, that provenance is crucial inside the Beltway.) Even before the Bush family requested coffee grown in the USA, Shanks had already fallen in love with Kona beans during a visit to the Islands years earlier. So he went online, ordered a batch from Kona Rainforest, loved it and continues to serve it at the White House.

Extra Fancy has become a favorite at prestigious events like state dinners, the annual governors’ meeting, the mayors’ conference and the first-ever luau for Congress. Shanks describes the taste as “delicate, gentle, balanced and best when the ethereal flavor of the coffee can be appreciated at a slower pace.” Not surprisingly, Shanks serves the Barneses’ brew only at events with a gracious sipping atmosphere, eschewing high-intensity press conferences and summit meetings. “The first lady’s morning coffee—for the right forty people—brings out the best in Kona,” Shanks says.


Kona Rainforest Coffee Farm